The Nature Of Experience Download
Discussion with participants on the origin of attention; thoughts, mind, and freedom from reacting; inference, intellect, and experience; discomfort and the death of duality; mirror, mirror on the wall; the importance of stability.
Let’s start this this evening with any questions coming out of your practice. One has to remember Nasrudin’s method of giving sermons,
One time he was asked to give a sermon and he got up in front of everybody and said, “How many of you know what I’m going to talk about?” And everybody said, “We don’t know.” He said, “Well, there’s no point in talking with you then. I won’t talk.”
So the villages elders went and prevailed on him to give another sermon. So, the next week he stood up in front of everybody and said, “How many of you know what I’m going to talk about?” And everybody said, “Yes!” “Oh, there’s no point in me giving a talk, then.” And so they made one more effort. This time they were prepared. He said, “How many of you know what I’m going to talk about?” And somebody said, “Some of us do and some of us don’t.” “Excellent,” said Nasrudin. “Those of you who do explain it to those who don’t.”
Any questions? See very easy for me: no questions, no practice. Yes?
Student: I want you to talk about attention, because with the attention and the relaxation with resting, it doesn’t feel right to have attention directed from the mind.
Ken: It doesn’t feel right to have attention directed from the mind? Say more.
Student: No. [Laughter]
Ken: I’m unable to help you. [Laughter] There’s nothing I can do.
Student: It feels too mental, I guess. And it’s been a question that’s kind of been coming up for me for a while, just with the regular or with the other meditation that we’re doing [unclear]. But it seems like attention….
Ken: You see this?
Ken: What do you see it with?
Student: My eyes?
Ken: Really? That’s what you see it with?
Student: I hate it when you do that. [Laughter]
Ken: We’re going to get along very well. I asked, “Do you see this?” I didn’t hear your eyes say anything.
Student: I saw it in a blurry kind of way.
Ken: Well I’ll make it easier for you. Do you see this?
Student: I perceive the [unclear] book.
Ken: Right. What do you see it with? Or, if you want to be really correct here, with what do you see this? Okay, right there. Where’s the attention coming from? Was it…?
Student: I don’t know.
Ken: Ah. Was it coming from your intellect?
Ken: Well you may have been thinking a little bit. But was it coming from your intellect?
Student: Yeah. Partially.
Ken: Okay, where else was it coming from?
Student: This sounds weird—it was coming from my chest.
Ken: That doesn’t sound weird to me. So you’ve answered your question.
Student: You’ve put it in a total state of confusion.
Ken: You asked where does the attention come from? You’ve answered it. Evidently this is not satisfactory. Would you like to try again?
Student: No. [Laughter]
Ken: I think you should try again. I definitely think you should try again. We’re just going to sit here until you try again.
Student: Can’t you try it on someone else?
Ken: No, you’re it tonight. We got…hmm…hour and ten minutes left.
Student: No one else is going to ask any questions.
Ken: No, but they’re going to learn so much. [Laughter]
Student: [Sighs] Oh.
Ken: Let’s start all over again, okay? And just scratch the last five minutes—it didn’t happen. What’s your question?
Student: Where do we direct attention from?
Ken: Ah. [Laughter] Oh, we’ll do it a different way, okay?
Student: Please stop. It was a simple question.
Ken: I’m giving you extremely simple answers.
[Ken strikes bell]
I brought this along because it lasts for a long time. It’s useful for this kind of thing. In fact I was thinking of you when I brought it along. How’s that for foresight as opposed to insight? Okay, do you hear this? [Ken strikes bell again]
Ken: Can you pay attention to that?
[Ken strikes bell again]
Student: I got it, thank you.
Ken: Tell me. Everybody else wants an answer to this question. Where does the attention come from?
Student: It’s…it’s a perception that…why don’t I just say….[Ken strikes bell again] it’s a perception. It’s a knowing. And if it’s not intellectual.
Ken: That satisfactory for you Dana?
Student: Oh, you better say, “Yes.” [Laughter]
Ken: Then explain it to me because I didn’t….
[Ken strikes bell]
Dana: It’s an experience that isn’t located in any one place.
Ken: That doesn’t tell me where it comes from.
Dana: Rephrase the question.
Ken: Rephrase the question.
Student: Where do we direct our attention from when we’re sitting, when we’re resting?
Karen: I can give a partial answer. I don’t know how to say it.
Ken: Please speak up so that everybody in the world can hear you [laughter].
Karen: To me it feels like the…that the body is perceiving that the whole…it doesn’t come from any one place, it comes from the body. The attention comes from the body.
Ken: Interesting. [Ken strikes bell] Do you hear that? Well, if the attention comes from the body, how do you hear it? I’m so grateful Karen, this is totally on topic.
Dana: Well, I don’t hear it in any one place.
Ken: But you hear it right?
Dana: I hear it but it’s not a place I’m hearing it.
Ken: That satisfactory Karen?
Karen: It’s fine with me…[laughter].
Ken: Well, I have very bad news for you. If you want to practice insight, you can’t let the question go like this—you’ve got to push. So, I encourage you—don’t let this be fine with you. You’ve got to push it until one of two things happens: you go to pieces or all hell breaks loose; and it doesn’t really matter which but, one of those things has to happen. So push.
Karen: I have to live with this woman.
Ken: If you do this properly she’ll be eternally grateful. Of course, if you don’t, there are other problems.
So, for how many other people is this a question? Where does the attention come from? Randy.
Randy: I mean, the question you asked me, when I’m seeing a lot of images in my mind, do I feel that in my body?
Ken: Mmm-hmm. And?
Randy: Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, sometimes I just get cut off.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Ralph.
Ralph: I’d say it’s an awareness. But an awareness is no-thing it’s no specific thing it’s just an experience.
Ken: Have you been reading a lot of books?
Ralph: Yes. [Unclear]…a lot of ideas.
Ken: It had that smell. Okay.
Insight, and the term in Tibetan is laktong. lak is the word for higher or superior, tong is the verb to see. So, very simple: higher seeing. Of course, we could say deeper seeing—means the same thing. Many have observed in previous evenings that when the mind rests, really rests, then thoughts and emotions arise and resolve or dissolve, or however you want to describe, it and there’s no disturbance—there’s resting. And it’s possible if you practice this enough that you experience periods where there is no thinking as such. In the Theravadan tradition such states are called the jhanas.
Student Ken: May I ask a question?
Ken: Certainly, Ken.
Student Ken: Is it possible to have thoughts arise and there be no thinking?
Student Ken: Okay. So it’s not because one has blanked the mind such that no thoughts arise that one is not thinking.
Ken: That’s correct.
Student Ken: Okay.
Ken: That it’s possible to create the conditions in which we rest without thoughts for periods of time. That’s somewhat difficult to do in the circumstances in which we live because there’s so much stuff happening all the time.
When the mind grows quiet like that, various kinds of experiences arise. A very large number of religions have been constructed out of just those experiences. This being America, there are more everyday. You find them all over the place—somebody has a bit of experience like that and they can construct a new religion. If they’re more entrepreneurially inclined, they construct a new healing technique.
Student: Reading technique?
Ken: Healing technique, you know. Just go onto the web, you’ll find hundreds if not thousands. They are all over the place. While well-meaning, people who do this actually haven’t gone very far, because one can develop a quiet mind. And for the most part, a quiet mind is a virtuous mind. One of the quickest ways to encourage people to be more virtuous is actually just to help them quiet their minds so there’s less agitation. Because there’s less agitation, there’s less reactivity. So they generally approach life in a more positive, constructive way. Very straightforward.
One researcher was very disturbed because she had the bright idea of having people look at the sky for twenty minutes a day. And then her measures of altruism on these people was off the charts—it was right off the bell curve. A friend told me about this and I said tell her to get in touch with me, but she never did. It’s very, very straightforward.
But all the habituated patterns, all the reactive tendencies are still there. When a thought does arise, when you’re not meditating or not resting that way, one tends to take it as a fact. And you’re back in the usual game.
From the Buddhist perspective it’s not sufficient to have a quiet mind. Freedom from reactivity comes from knowing the nature of the experience as the experience arises.
Now, take this back to your meditation practice. When a thought arises in your meditation and you don’t recognize it as a thought what happens?
Student: You’re carried away.
Student: You’re carried away with it.
Ken: Yeah. You go into the realm of the thought. Bang! Distraction. When a thought arises and as it arises you know it as a thought what happens?
Student: It dissolves [unclear].
Ken: It may or may not dissolve immediately. It may come up and know it, but you’re not distracted by it. Of course, sometimes it’s such an interesting thought you let yourself get distracted, but that’s another problem. Yeah, hmmm, do I go this way or that way? The same holds true for emotions.
Want me to pick on somebody else, Karen? Yeah, who would you like me to pick on? [Laughter]
Ken: Nah, I’ve worked with Chuck for years, pick somebody else. See, I’m just going to make you so popular.
Ken: See, now that’s better.
Ken: Charles. Do you see this?
Ken: What do you see?
Charles: A green pamphlet.
Ken: Do you see a green pamphlet or do you infer a green pamphlet?
Charles: I don’t know. It could be that I see it, but I’m sure I infer it.
Ken: You’re sure you what?
Charles: Infer it.
Ken: You’re sure you infer it.
Charles: Right. It could be both.
Ken: Could be both?
Ken: What do you actually see? Say you held this in a very particular way.
Ken: What do you see? Well let’s start with the simples. Do you see green?
Ken: Okay, we agreed at that. Do you see a rectangular shape?
Ken: Okay, do you see anything else?
Charles: It’s not clear whether the green pamphlet is the same as or different from the green board or the rectangular shape. [Laughter]
Ken: I didn’t ask that. I didn’t ask that. I just asked what you saw.
Charles: But I can’t answer that question unless I know the relationship between the green pamphlet and the rectangular shape and the green color I don’t know.
Ken: Yes, but how can you know that? You can’t even know for sure whether there’s a green rectangle or a green pamphlet. All you can see is a green rectangle. Anything else is extra.
Charles: Just because it’s extra doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Ken: How do you know I’m not just holding up a green piece of paper?
Charles: Well of course I could be wrong but I saw you pick it up.
Ken: Aha, inference. Just what I said.
Charles: Yeah that’s an inference.
Ken: How do you know I’m not a magician and I just switched the two?
Charles: For all I know you might be a magician. But that doesn’t mean you in fact are. It could be that you’re not a magician with green pamphlets [unclear].
Ken: It could be but you cannot say this based on what you see.
Charles: Why do you say that?
Ken: Because I may have switched the green pamphlet for a green piece of paper.
Charles: I infer that there’s a green pamphlet.
Ken: Thank you.
Charles: The fact that I might be wrong doesn’t mean there isn’t a green pamphlet there.
Ken: I only asked what you saw. I didn’t ask what’s here.
Student1: Inference is based on memory.
Ken: Yeah, I know. I didn’t ask what’s here. I asked what you saw.
Charles: But if there is in fact a green pamphlet there, then by seeing the green rectangle, I also saw the green pamphlet.
Ken: Not at all. You can only have green and rectangle. You infer what you call a pamphlet is what you apply to the experience of green and rectangle.
Student: Based on previous moments of experience.
Ken: Yes. What I’m going to sidetrack you here, I have another question.
Charles: Go ahead.
Ken: He’s ready for this. [Laughter] He thinks he’s ready for it. [Laughter] You have this experience of seeing. Where is the seeing?
Ken: Nowhere, absolutely nowhere. Is that your answer? Final answer? [Laughter]
Charles: All right, just to give you a little bit more trouble.
Ken: Go for it.
Charles: It’s in my optic nerve.
Ken: The experience of seeing is in your optic nerve.
Ken: Is that your position?
Charles: Let’s say it is.
Ken: How does it get from your optic nerve to you?
Charles: There is no “me” for it to get to.
Ken: Ah, but you can’t go there, because I asked you “Do you see this?” and you said “Yes.”
Charles: Do you think there is a “you”?
Ken: We’re not going there.
Charles: Do you see anything?
Ken: Do you see this?
Charles: Okay, there is a seeing.
Ken: Where is the seeing?
Charles: Kind of around over here.
Ken: Waving the hands over our head in some kind of confused way. That’s where the seeing is?
Ken: How do you know it’s there?
Charles: Although I don’t know for sure, because I could be wrong. Nevertheless, I’ve read some science books and I trust them.
Ken: That’s not going to work today.
Charles: Why is it fair for you to say that?
Ken: Because I’m trying to teach you something about vipashyana or insight. And I can assure you that scientific textbooks are not going to help you in this moment.
Charles: But the problem is, Ken, until you can get this into my head, I won’t see it. And until you can take away the scientific textbooks you can’t get this into my head.
Ken: Nonsense, just watch.
Charles: Sorry you picked me?
Karen: Not at all.
Ken: Is the green rectangle that you see…or what distance is the green rectangle that you see from you.
Charles: I said there is no “me” remember?
Ken: No, we are already established that. You already said there is a “you” because you said when I asked you said “you” saw this. [unclear] Okay?
Charles: Do you see anything?
Ken: No, no, do you see anything? Do you see anything that I’m holding? Yes or no?
Charles: There is a seeing.
Ken: Do you see anything. You see, what you’re doing here, Charles, is you are relying on your intellect. And because you’re relying on your intellect you’re actually disconnecting from your experience and now you’re only relating to your experience through your intellect. Very glad you’re doing this because this is what precisely what most people do in vipashyana practice. And this is not a theoretical discussion, this is not a philosophical discussion, this is a very direct discussion about the nature of experience. So if you try to use your intellect to dodge the implication of the questions, all that you’re succeeding in doing is separating from your experience.
Whenever I ask anybody, “Where is this?” and they say, “It’s in the mind,” they’re doing exactly the same thing. You’re just doing it a little more elaborately than they are. But it has the same effect: it separates you from your experience. How can you possibly know the nature of your experience if you separate from it this way?
Do you want to try again or do you want to have me pick on somebody else? One or the other.
Charles: I’m game, but remember, I do this for a living so it’s not easy.
Ken: You’re a philosophy professor right?
Charles: I am.
Ken: Yes, okay, so you’re just going to have to forget your philosophy and relate to your experience. I know that’s against the philosophical rules but that’s how it is. Do you see what I am holding in my hand?
Ken: Okay I was going to go beyond the fringe for a moment. [Laughter] Okay, what do you see?
Charles: Green rectangle.
Ken: Where is the seeing? You have a physical location there. A green rectangle is over here. Where is the seeing? It’s not so easy is it?
Charles: It’s not in the rectangle.
Ken: No it’s not in the rectangle because it would make it very difficult for you to experience the seeing if it was in the rectangle. That is correct.
Charles: It’s not between.
Ken: How do you know that?
Charles: It’s air between.
Charles: It’s not just over here.
Ken: No, because this is over here. Okay, so where is it?
Ken: Can you say where it is?
Ken: Good, this is very good, you’re relating directly to your experience—there’s hope for you.
Now, watch carefully. I don’t want you to focus on the green rectangle. I want you to focus on your seeing of the green rectangle. Watch that experience very carefully. You ready? Okay. Where did the experience go?
Charles: Do it again please.
Ken: Happy to oblige. We can do it another way, okay? Just want to make sure so there are no tricks, okay? Ready? For purposes of the recording, I hid the green rectangle, the pamphlet, under my jacket. Where did it go? Where did the experience go?
Charles: No place.
Ken: Okay. One final question. I want you to watch very carefully right here, okay? What happened?
Charles: Experience came up.
Ken: Okay, so I’m going to do it again. I want you to tell me where it comes from, the experience, not the emotion. Okay? Where does the experience come from? Ready?
Charles: It arises but it doesn’t come from anywhere.
Ken: Okay. Now you’re a philosopher right?
Ken: What do you normally say about something that you can’t say where it is, you can’t say where it goes, and you can’t say where it comes from? Normally what do you say about such…?
Charles: Doesn’t exist.
Ken: Did you have the experience of seeing?
Ken: Okay, what do you conclude from this?
Charles: Experience of seeing is very mysterious. [Laughter]
Ken: Fair enough. Exactly. All experience is like this. Okay? All experience is like this.
Larry: So, I mean our establishing reference points all over the place, we’re going against the grain.
Ken: Say a bit more about going against the grain.
Larry: If all experience is like that and we fixate, then we’re going against that natural arising.
Ken: I think I understand what you’re pointing to. Experience arises but because of habituation and we have elaborate explanations of habituation in terms of ignorance and dualistic thinking and so forth.
When experience arises we immediately split it into two: the awareness and the object. I wouldn’t say it’s intentional, I would say it’s conditioned. We appropriate awareness to ourselves and the object now becomes other. Follow?
Ken: And we create…or subject and object is created. This is an utterly false way of experiencing the world. But it’s the one that we’re used to. You with me, Leslie?
Ken: Okay. The practice of vipashyana, or insight, aims to correct this misperception. That’s why it’s called a higher seeing because you see things as they are not as we project them to be. Going to use this with your students? What branch of philosophy do you work with?
Charles: [Chuckle] Buddhism.
Ken: Buddhism, you’re a Buddhist philosopher? God, that’s like military intelligence. [Laughter] So pick someone to pass the baton to, Charles.
So how have you done with the discussion up to this point?
Nick: Yeah, so far so good.
Ken: Right, opened some new perspectives for you?
Ken: Seeing things a little differently? If not, okay, we’ll persevere here. I have been likened to visiting a dentist. That is, it’s painful at the time but it feels better afterwards.
Ken: Okay. So this experience of seeing—when Charles said you can’t say where it is, can’t say where it goes, can’t say where it comes from, that all made sense to you?
Ken: Okay, good. Now what I want you to do is to focus on the experience of seeing, okay? Not on the object, but on the experience of seeing.
Ken: Okay. In the experience of seeing, where is the subject and where is the object?
Nick: I don’t know—I can’t…I can’t tell you.
Ken: Oh. And thus duality dies.
Nick: It’s not as comforting as I would have thought. [Laughter]
Ken: It’s not as what?
Nick: It’s not as comforting as I would have thought.
Ken: What’s the discomfort?
Nick: It’s…I don’t know, it’s scary, I mean….
Ken: Let’s pursue this a little bit. It’s important. What’s scary about it?
Nick: Well, when you guys were talking a minute ago I was kind of playing with my hands on the mat.
Nick: And I couldn’t figure out where, like, I started. Yeah, I couldn’t resolve that.
Ken: Yeah, okay, right.
Nick: It made me want to vomit a little bit because it, not, like, out of disgust, but like actually viscerally, because I felt really kind of cornered and claustrophobic, like I don’t….
Ken: Ah, excellent. Very good. What felt cornered? I’m going to give you a suggestion here.
Nick: Go ahead.
Ken: The experience of being cornered arose.
Nick: Yeah, yeah.
Ken: What happens if you just open to that experience? Where did you go? You see, maybe it’s a little more comforting than you thought.
Nick: I’ll get back to you on that.
Ken: Pardon? [Laughter] You’ll get back to me on that, okay. You see how viscerally the sense of “I” arises? That’s how deeply ingrained it is in our way of relating to the world. You follow?
Ken: Yeah. It objects to this little exercise strenuously. Why?
Vladimir: Well, it seems to me that from the very beginning, you kind of stacked the deck….
Vladimir: I ask you the question, experience, that obviously supposes…First of all, you asked Charles, “Do you see?” Again, you implying that already got him to thinking that there is a seeing subject. And also, that the very notion of experience very much already implies a subject and object. So there is no seeing. It’s an imputation that it’s an experience. The cause of the experience is an imputation—there is no experience.
Well, ask me if I see it, because…or if I experience it, there is no such thing.
Ken: Oh dear.
Vladimir: I read way too many books.
Ken: I won’t do this but I will tell you what Kangyur Rinpoche would do.
Ken: Kangyur Rinpoche. He’s died. Kangyur Rinpoche was a lama from Kham, big guy for a Tibetan. He had a student saying very much the same kind of thing, except the student was saying all experience is here. You’re going a little further and saying there is no experience.
So, what Kangyur Rinpoche did was he said, because the student was just, you know, really sticking to his guns, you know, it’s all here, et cetera. So, Kangyur Rinpoche said, “Come here,” and the student came up and Kangyur Rinpoche went [Ken punches] really hard in the stomach. I mean, he didn’t pull the punch, either, and the student just went, “Ooohh, aaaahhh, ooohh, aaahhh.” [Laughter] And he said, “Now where’s your mind?” Okay? So I say the same thing to you that I say…said to Charles. If we think about this we immediately tie ourselves up in knots. But when I hold this up there is an experience. Nicholas here had an experience of nausea?
Nick: Something like that, panic I think is actually a little closer.
Ken: Panic, okay. So, there are experiences, and I want to emphasize, this isn’t a philosophical discussion.
Vladimir: It feels to us that there…that we experience it, yeah.
Ken: Yeah, okay.
Vladimir: I agree with you. It feels that way.
Ken: And that’s how we relate to things.
Vladimir: Right, yeah.
Ken: But when we investigate it and we look at it a little more closely, it seems the solidity and definiteness of the way that we think we experience runs out…like sand through our fingers. Okay?
So, the sense of “I” which is deeply habituated—actually, it would be better to say the habit of perception which sees things in terms of “I” and “other”—has a visceral reaction, or instigates a visceral reaction to this kind of investigation. Why? Nicholas called it panic. Fear is the mechanism of last resort to dissipate attention. The pattern of seeing things in terms of “I” is a pattern. It has no intelligence, has no awareness. When something arises that is contrary to that, it triggers a reaction, fear, to dissipate the attention that is opening to that experience.
This is the primary reason why I don’t think analytical meditation for this kind of practice is at all helpful. Because it keeps things in the intellect and people do not learn how to deal with the emotional reactions that arise when you embark upon this phase of practice. Those emotional reactions are very, very important.
Student: What do you mean by analytical meditation?
Ken: I don’t know that term.
Student: tsema. tsöpa.
Ken: Oh debate, okay, yeah, okay, yes. That’s one form it takes. But where you prove by various means of logic that the self doesn’t exist, etc.
Student: Oh, okay.
Ken: Because it’s all logic.
Ken: What we’re engaged here is, this isn’t a logic game, it isn’t an intellectual game. The only reason in my interchange with Charles that I resorted to logic is he was squirreling out of the experience with his intellect. So I used logic to stop that and then went back to the experience. This is very, very important. So…what time do you have? This is good.
Student Ken: Can I ask a question?
Ken: Please, Ken.
Student Ken: How about the dialectic of the Madhyamika?
Ken: It’s a very good point to raise. You have Nagarjuna’s….
Student: Verses from the Center.
Ken: Well, no. That’s the title Stephen Batchelor gave Mulamadhyamikakarika, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, Nagarjuna wrote at a time when things were expressed in analytical logic terms. The Indian mind has an extraordinary capacity for philosophical and logical thinking. That’s one of the reasons why they’re producing so many high quality computer programmers these days. And [Mulamadhyamikakarika] has been studied as a course in logic and logical reasoning and proof of the impossibility of making any categorical statements about the nature of experience. That is, any statement you make necessarily involves you in a self-contradiction et cetera, for centuries.
In his translation, which is published under the title Verses from the Center, Stephen Batchelor, I think, did something quite brilliant and quite courageous in that he looked at this and noted that Nagarjuna lived at a time in which the Madhyamika was really just forming—because his text is taken as the basis for the Madhyamika. So, he’s really come out of a mindfulness…you know, something pretty analogous to a Theravadan tradition. And instead of translating it as a logic text, he translated it as a series of questions.
So, coming and going. Well, what is coming and going about? It’s about moving right? Here I am, I’m standing here. What’s happening now?
Student: You’re moving.
Ken: Yeah, what do we call this usually?
Ken: Walking. That’s it. Not every question’s difficult. Now, I want you to pay very close attention. Is there a walker at this point?
Ken: Tell me where the walker comes from.
Student: The action.
Ken: Comes from the action or is the action the expression of the walker? It’s very difficult to say isn’t it?
Ken: This is how Stephen translated Nagarjuna’s work—not as a series of logical questions. That is, questions of a way of inquiring into experience.
A group of my students in Los Angeles would get together and study texts and they often asked what text, and I suggested they take Verses from the Center and they work with each chapter as an inquiry into their experience. They had a very fruitful year. They met once a month. But that was their practice: taking those questions and actually just sitting with them and looking. And all kinds of stuff had to fall away because the questions are exactly the same kind that I was posing here.
When you really look at our experience, we cannot say a damn thing about it. It’s just there in some kind of mysterious way. But habitually we fix everything into subject object and off we go.
So, let your mind settle for a moment. Just sit. Now, I want to say a little about this word “mind”. Mind is experiencing. We normally associate the word in English with the intellect, but in the context we’re going to be talking about it here, mind is experiencing. And you can pretty well substitute the one for the other—mind-experience, experience-mind.
So, just take a few moments and let the breath settle. [Pause] And ask the question, “What is mind?” And I just want you to look. Look at mind. Look at experiencing. When you do, what do you see? Anybody?
Karen: I don’t see anything.
Ken: Okay, you don’t see anything. Describe this not seeing anything.
Larry: Nobody doing nothing very well. [Chuckles]
Ken: What do you see, Larry? Since you’re kind enough to take Karen off the hook. I’m sure she’s going to be very grateful. What do you see when you look at mind?
Larry: It’s no thing as such.
Ken: Does anybody have a mirror here? Ah, there’s one back there. So, those of you who can, without breaking your necks, look at the mirror. How many of you see the mirror? Tom, you see the mirror, do you?
Student: Are you talking about this mirror?
Ken: This mirror. How many see this mirror? Just Tom so far. Ralph? Peter? Randy? Stand up, Randy.
Student: Which one?
Ken: This one. I’ve had enough professors for this evening, I’m going to go with the attorney.
Ken: Yeah, okay. So, do you actually see the mirror?
Randy: No. What I see is the shape around the outside—I don’t actually see the mirror.
Ken: So you see a shape—the wooden frame. Okay, then how do you know there’s a mirror there?
Randy: From my experience.
Ken: Yeah well, they’re reflections, right? You know that there’s a wall there, there are reflections there. So you deduce there is a mirror. But you don’t actually see the mirror do you?
Student: Can I ask a question? Why is that so unnerving? [Laughter] I might have to leave. [Laughter]
Ken: I’m sorry there’s no transportation for a week. [Laughter] Nancy?
Nancy: I guess I don’t really quite get it. Are you saying that the mirror is a concept? I mean, because I see the mirror.
Ken: No, do you see the mirror or do you see reflections?
Nancy: Well from here, I can see that there’s something in that frame.
Nancy: That is reflecting, and it is reflecting.
Ken: Yeah, you don’t see the mirror—all you see are the reflections. Everything else is deduction.
Student: So we’re saying that the mind experience kind of works similarly.
Ken: Well hold on, [laughter] let’s not get ahead of the show here. Okay. Now, if you’re a cat, you take those reflections to be real objects. You ever seen a cat in front of a mirror and it goes [cat hissing and scratching]? And of course, the cat in the mirror goes [cat hissing]. So the other cat goes [cat fight] and the other cat goes [cat fight]. This happens. Chimpanzees don’t. They can recognize that they’re seeing a reflection.
Ken: Oh elephants, yeah, elephants are quite intelligent. So, they can’t see a reflection. We can see a reflection. So we infer that there’s a mirror there. Those reflections real objects? But by looking at those reflections you’re actually looking at the mirror, you follow? So when you look at the mirror that way, there are the reflections. That’s how you see the mirror. Okay.
Look at your mind. What do you see?
Ken: Describe your mind—what is it?
Student: A reflection of everything in experience.
Ken: Is it a reflection?
Student: It isn’t.
Ken: What is your mind? What did you say, Randy?
Randy: It is everything you’ve experienced.
Ken: Do you relate to the world that way?
Randy: The world’s…
Ken: Pardon? On a day to day basis, do you relate to the world that everything you experience is your mind?
Ken: No, we don’t do we? And that’s how it is.
Student: What does it mean if you do? I mean, not what does it mean, but what if you do relate to the world with the knowledge that everything you experience is your mind or is mind?
Ken: What would that look like?
Student: Yeah, well, what would a person that relates that way to their world be like?
Ken: Would they experience any enemies?
Student: I guess not in any fixed sense, but I could imagine them—I thought of this as well—I could imagine them defending themselves if somebody attacked them, say.
Student: But I don’t think there would be any hatred there in a sense of solidifying a truly existing other that’s ultimately different from what one calls one’s….
Student: Yeah, but it would be instinctive, it wouldn’t be intellectual and that’s the quandary I find myself in. I can appreciate this intellectually.
Student: Yet I think if somebody…well not so much me, but say if I had a child and somebody tried to kill my child I think I would feel hatred.
Ken: Well, you would probably feel anger at least.
Ken: Yeah, and because at that point you’re regarding that…the attacker as something other.
Ken: And now you’re in the hell realm.
Student: Yeah, yeah.
Ken: So, we can see that the nature of our experience is very different from what we ordinarily take it to be. So, let’s go back a few moments. When we ask the question, “What is mind,” we don’t see anything. Okay? How long can you stay there? Anybody?
Ralph: Just a glimpse.
Ken: What happens, Ralph?
Ralph: Like conceptual mind is so powerful, and it’s energies are so strong that it feels threatened and like emotions that arise in my body are fear and automatic [unclear].
Ken: Yeah, four things happen quite quickly. First: see nothing. There is a moment of panic very much like what you experienced, Nicholas. We fall into confusion and then usually the conceptual mind takes over and starts constructing explanations like crazy and theories, etc. Which is a way of dissipating attention so that experience doesn’t continue. What the practice of vipashyana consists of, insight consists of, is cultivating a level of attention in which you can rest in seeing no thing.
When I had an office, I had a painting. It was a minimalist painting, about 12 inches by 9 inches, maybe a little larger. It consisted of a very dark green so dark that it was almost black canvas. With a tiny little bit of raw canvas at the bottom maybe 2 inches long and 1/8 of an inch wide—a little jacket. And in one office I had it positioned right by the door so that when people walked out they were going right by it—looking right at it.
In my second office it was above my assistant’s computer stand. And she said, “Ken, this is such a dumb painting. Why are you putting it here?”
And I said, “It’s a meditation test.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you look at this painting, what do you see?”
“Exactly. So, people won’t see this painting until they develop the ability to see nothing.”
She said, “Ken, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of! That’s ridiculous.”
This is when we were just setting up the office, she just thought I was totally nuts.
Fast forward three years. A student of mine who’s been coming quite regularly, after a session with me, comes out writing a check to give to my assistant. Looks at the wall and turns to her and says, “When did you put that painting up?”
And my assistant turns to me and says, “You’ve got to be kidding! I don’t believe this.” [Laughter]
And so the student said, “What the hell’s going…what are you talking about?”
And Celia said, “That painting’s been up for three years.”
And he went, “No way!”
It was simply that.
So, this is what I want you to start doing in your practice now.
As I said earlier, and as a couple of people have alluded this evening, the emotional reactions are quite strong and they’re usually completely glossed over in terms of practice. And this is why many people have a very difficult time, and often a very fruitless time working with insight practice, because they’re leaving out eighty, ninety per cent of the practice. I’m not quite sure why the instructions evolved that way, but it’s a problem.
So, you work slowly and you work patiently here. It is very, very important to work from a basis of stability. It’s easy to have flashes, but they’re really like lightning flashes—you can’t do anything with them. They don’t effect any change except give rise to all kinds of neat ideas which people fabricate into theories and philosophies and all kinds of things, but doesn’t really produce very much.
So, you continue to practice as we’ve been doing up to this point, where you just let yourself rest. And I’ve been emphasizing resting, resting very, very deeply. We also been emphasizing resting without reference, which in itself brings out some emotional reactions quite frequently. And as we move into this phase of practice, it’s going to be about ninety per cent resting and ten per cent insight at this point. I really want you thinking about those proportions.
You rest, and when body and breath and mind are resting, then ask the question, “What is mind?” This is very equivalent to asking the question, “What experiences this?” in the primary practice that I taught a few days ago. When you ask this question, number one, do not try to answer it, because if you do, you immediately entrain the intellect and all your attention will dissipate.
You’ve heard me say before, and I was really so happy when I found this quote, “When the bird and the book disagree, believe the bird.” This is why I was concerned, Charles, to come back into what—and Vladimir—to come back into what we actually experience. Not ideas about our experience, but what we actually experience. That’s what we’re concerned with, that’s what we’re working with. Here the bird is your mind.
And when you look, as we’ve discussed, you see no thing. It’s very confusing. When you ask the question, it’s just like me saying “Look at the mirror.” And you just look at the mirror and you think you see the mirror until I point out that all you see is the reflection. Look at the mind—you’re looking at mind as soon as you ask that question. And it’s just like that [Ken snaps fingers]—you’re looking at mind. You’re shaking your head, Ralph.
Ralph: Not following you.
Ken: The rest of your body is going, “No, no, no!”
Yeah, I’ve run into this before. I was giving a workshop to a group of attorneys and I was saying something, not on this, I was saying something else and there was one attorney her head was just going like this. She doesn’t want to take it in.
So, as soon as you ask the question, you’re looking at mind. Believe the bird. You may find that your attention destabilizes immediately. Okay, that’s what happened. Go back to resting—ten, fifteen, twenty minutes later, whatever—ask the question again. Don’t ask it immediately, because that’s just like, you know, it’s like the wake of a boat. The water is very turbid, you know. No calm water there at all so you’re not going to be able to see anything. And this water requires patience. And ask again, “What is my mind?” And you’re just looking. Little by little you’ll be able to rest in the looking. And that’s what you’re cultivating, because you’ll feel the shift.
Sometimes it’s experienced kinesthetically, sometimes it’s experienced energetically—you feel the shift when you say, you know, “What is my mind?” And you rest in that shift. Now you’re resting in the looking. Eventually, maybe one second, maybe a minute, can be longer, the attention destabilizes and you either fall into dullness or thinking. And then you go back to the resting and ask again.
There are other questions you can ask, they serve the same purpose. “What color is my mind?” “Where is my mind?” “What shape is my mind?” “What form?” All of these questions have the same effect. They cause you to look right at mind. Rest in the looking. Any questions?
My friend Sarah Harding, who’s a translator, lives in Boulder, went to see Dezhung Tulku in Nepal. And this is in the early days. Dezhung Tulku knew very, very little English. She knew no Tibetan. He said to her, “Mind look color what?” Which is how you’d say it in Tibetan. So she went off. Practiced for a week. Came back to see Dezhung Tulku. “What color mind?” And Sarah said, “I don’t see anything.” Dezhung Tulku smiled and said, “Seeing not seeing.” And Sarah said, “I don’t see anything.” And he smiled and said, “Seeing not seeing. And Sarah said, ”You don’t understand, I don’t see anything.“ ”Seeing not seeing.“ At which point Sarah started to get very upset and started to cry, ”I don’t see anything.“ Dezhung Tulku said, ”Yes! Yes! Seeing not seeing.“ At which point Sarah finally got what he was saying.
So, sometimes a little difficulty in language can be helpful.
A story was told of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great who sent three monks to Khyentse Wangpo, who was his teacher and his student—they were very close. Two of the great figures of Eastern Tibet in the nineteenth century. And Khyentse Wangpo said to the three monks, ”So, what color is your mind? Go off and practice.“ Came back a few days later, Khyentse Wangpo said to the person, ”What color is your mind?“ Monk said, ”White.“ Said to the second monk, ”What color is your mind?“ ”Black.“ Said to the third monk, ”What color is your mind?“ And the poor guy broke down and said, ”I don’t know what these guys are talking about—black, white, I just don’t see anything.“ Khyentse Wangpo said, ”You can study with me. The other two, you go.“
So, practice looking. Remember the percentages. You do too much of this kind of looking, because you’re raising the level of energy, you’ll destabilize attention. It’s very much about building a capacity here. Because if you do too much, you’re going to find your mind racing with thoughts, you know, just like [Ken makes spinning sounds]. Some of you may say, ”Well, it’s like that anyway, what’s the difference?“ [Laughter] Well, it’s the difference between a crash between two turtles and a crash on the freeway. One of the Swedish jokes I know is:
A snail was standing on the corner of—whatever snails do, I don’t know whether they stand—on a corner of an intersection and a turtle was coming down one road or path and a tortoise was coming down the other and met in the intersection and collided and ground to a halt. The rabbit police appeared on the scene just like that [Ken snaps fingers], went up to the snail and said, ”You saw everything. What happened?“ And the snail said, ”I don’t know, it all happened so quickly.“ [Laughter]
So anyway, all right. Oh well, we’ve gone over again.
Ken: Yeah, you’ll know if you do too much vipashyana because you won’t be able to see straight. [Laughter] You’ll just be all weooooh. You have to work from a base of stability. Your mind can get very active and very energized and things like that. This is kind of an intriguing practice to do. You go, ”Oh, I want to do more of this.“ Then you find you’re just a jumble of fragmented attention. Then you’ve got to rest and just rest and then look again. As you work with this, it’s very likely you’ll start to be able to stay in that looking longer. And that’s the beginning of vipashyana practice.
Student Ken: I’ve done this practice before and I’ve often gotten into this infinite regression.
Ken: That’s because you think.
Student Ken: Yeah.
Ken: Don’t think.
Student Ken: Okay.
Ken: I mean, don’t apply logic here. This is another reason why I don’t like the analytical approach, because that’s exactly what happens. You get into infinite regressions and you just go round and round like a dog chasing its tail. This is why I approached it this evening the way that I did. You look and you rest in the looking.
Student Ken: Yeah.
Ken: As soon as you start to think, you’re out of it.
Student Ken: Yeah.
Ken: Stop. Just stop.
Student Ken: Yeah.
Ken: And go back to resting. You may find that your mind gets so active that it’s not possible for you to rest without reference, so you may want to use the breath or something like that.
Student Ken: Yeah.
Ken: Do that and then you’re resting with the breath and then you just can rest. Then you go, ”Okay. What color is my mind?“ or ”What is my mind?” And the point here is to look and develop this ability of looking. Okay?
Student Ken: Mmm hmm
Ken: Other questions. Yes?
Student: A while ago you said there were four things that your mind does when you look and see nothing.
Student: I only got three: panic, fall into confusion, and then your intellect.
Ken: The first one is you see nothing.
Ken: See nothing, panic, fall into confusion, start thinking; and they happen just like that [Ken snaps fingers]. Randy?
Randy: I’m confused by what you just said, the difference between resting on the breath and resting without reference. Don’t you use the breath to rest without reference?
Ken: You can use it to move into resting without reference. But if you’re resting without reference, you aren’t resting on the breath.
Randy: You’re just resting….
Ken: Oh, I mean, you’re talking about the exhalation, following the out-breath?
Randy: That’s how…I mean that’s the kick-start.
Ken: Yeah, you can do that. But you may find if, when you’ve been looking, the mind didn’t rest just like….
Randy: But before you get there, what I’m saying, resting without reference.
Ken: Oh, resting without reference you just….
Randy: So there’s nothing.
Ken: Just rest.
Randy: You’re not resting on the breath, you just rest.
Ken: Yeah. Some people like that and other people don’t. It all depends whether you like floors or not. [Laughter] Other questions? Okay, is everybody clear? All right, we’ll we’re going to have a chance to do it. So let’s take a few minutes to stretch and refresh.